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Son of Hillsborough sheriff claims 'stand your ground' in stabbing case

George Zachary Chronister, 24, the son of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, was arrested last year after he was accused of cutting another man with a knife during a fight. An amateur rapper, the young Chronister composed a song that includes apparent references to the incident. The song plays in a YouTube video with the image seen here. In court, the younger Chronister has invoked Florida's "stand your ground" self defense law. [Tampa Police Department, YouTube]
George Zachary Chronister, 24, the son of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, was arrested last year after he was accused of cutting another man with a knife during a fight. An amateur rapper, the young Chronister composed a song that includes apparent references to the incident. The song plays in a YouTube video with the image seen here. In court, the younger Chronister has invoked Florida's "stand your ground" self defense law. [Tampa Police Department, YouTube]
Published May 18, 2018

TAMPA — A little over a year ago, a fight broke out in a parking lot off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and ended with a man getting slashed across the face and stabbed in the back. The person with the knife claimed self defense and has invoked Florida's "stand your ground" law.

No one died. The case would draw little notice except for the defendant's familiar last name.

George Zachary Chronister, 24, is the son of Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, 50.

The younger Chronister's Feb. 27, 2017, arrest on an aggravated battery charge occurred six months before the father was tapped to lead the Tampa Bay area's largest law enforcement agency.

•••

The parking lot beef began over some rhymes.

The son, who goes by Zack, is an amateur rapper known as "Zchronik."

He was rumored to have taken songs written by others and branded them his own, according to a Tampa police report. Someone told police he had written a "dis" song, directed at fellow young rapper, Phillip Manzi.

A war of words raged on social media. Manzi later told police that Chronister and another man, Micah Puckett, called him via Facetime video the night of Feb. 26, 2017. They told Manzi they wanted to fight, according to the report. Manzi said he saw a gun in the video.

Manzi told the pair to come to Oakley's Grille, a New Tampa restaurant where he worked as a cook, if they wanted to fight, according to the report.

It was after 10 p.m. when Chronister pulled into the restaurant parking lot, with Puckett in the passenger seat.

They confronted Manzi and Matthew Cerro, another cook at Oakley's. It was decided that Puckett and Cerro would fight, the police report said.

Cerro eventually pinned Puckett. As he gained the advantage, Cerro hurled insults, accusing Chronister of not protecting his friend, the report said.

Manzi, according to a court document filed by Chronister's defense attorney, joined in the trash talk. He and his girlfriend started threatening Chronister, the record said.

"What ... are you going to do?" Manzi yelled. "Nothing!"

Chronister became afraid, according to the court filing.

He raised the blade and cut Manzi, then left before police arrived, the police report said.

As Manzi was treated in a hospital, police noted he was hesitant to give them a statement. He told them he feared Chronister's father, whom he mistakenly believed was a federal agent, according to the police report.

Officers went to the son's home and repeatedly knocked. After 30 minutes, he came out.

As he was handcuffed, Chronister uttered that it was "self-defense." He was booked in the jail his father would soon oversee. In the morning, he was released on a $7,500 bond.

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While Manzi was in the hospital, he reported receiving a text from Chronister saying he was let off easy this time.

A week later, Chronister posted a video to his personal YouTube page showing him behind the wheel of a car, rattling off freestyle lyrics that reference the stabbing.

A month later, on April 7, 2017, he posted a new song, this one more refined and featuring a synthesized melody.

"No fist fight, slash yo face with my knife," he sang.

The video plays over an album cover, which features a picture of Chronister with a cartoon hand wrapped around a bloody blade. An image of Jesus also appears behind stylized text reading "Slash Yo Face."

"I just made the news," Chronister sings, "but I'm innocent, man./It was self-defense./ ... He should be glad he ain't in a body bag."

A few days after the video appeared, a judge granted an injunction — later extended to two years — ordering Chronister to stay away from Manzi.

• • •

In a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times, the sheriff expressed disappointment.

"I can only hope he finds the strength and the desire to turn his life around," Chad Chronister said. "You can imagine, as a father, how frustrating it is."

He was married for 3 1/2 years to Zack's mother, and the marriage ended before the boy turned 2. The father paid child support and shared custody, records show.

Chad Chronister said the relationship became more distant as the son entered teen years. He said he hoped that would change in time.

The son has a private attorney, Ronald Darrigo. He did not return calls for comment. A hearing on the "stand your ground" claim was originally set for this week, but was rescheduled for June 28.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, which prosecutes cases from the Sheriff's Office, bowed out of the Chronister matter to avoid a conflict of interest. Gov. Rick Scott assigned it to the office of Sarasota-Manatee State Attorney Ed Brodsky. That was a month before Scott appointed Chronister to replace Sheriff David Gee, who retired early.

Several family members attended the sheriff's swearing in, but not his eldest son.

Chronister said he wouldn't have wanted to be there.

"He's his own person," the sheriff said. "I think that's the hardest thing for any parent to accept, that when your child becomes an adult you have little influence over them."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.